Last August, when Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools began upgrading air filters in their K-12 buildings, the event was so significant that news trucks showed up to document one of the first installations, at a Tampa elementary school.

When RAND Inc. researchers last spring presented parents with a list of 13 items that would make them feel safe about in-person schooling this fall, parents’ top priority wasn’t teacher or student vaccines, social distancing or regular COVID testing.

It was ventilation.

Perhaps that’s because COVID-19 has made our most basic act — breathing — newsworthy.

But therein lies the problem: In 2021, with an airborne virus still infecting Americans at a rate of about 15,000 daily, the heating and cooling systems in many U.S. public schools are nothing short of awful. Whether billions in new federal aid will be enough to help school districts upgrade an aging system anytime soon remains an open question.

While data on the scope of the problem are scarce, what little there are suggest that schools are looking at billions of dollars in deferred maintenance. A few examples:

  • In Worcester, Mass., the district last summer said it would spend $15 million to upgrade heating and cooling systems in its 44 schools, some of which date back to the 1800s. Nearly half of its schools were built before 1940;
  • In Denver, the school board unanimously approved spending $4.9 million to upgrade school heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in more than 150 buildings after former Superintendent Susana Cordova said parents had been asking her specifically about HVAC upgrades.

Read the full article about school ventilation by Greg Toppo at The 74.